July 1, 2012

West Coaster: Hero2 vs. Contour+

Contour lent me their flagship Contour+ helmet cam this past month, so I've been trying to think of good off-season ways to compare it to my GoPro Hero2. Here's something interesting: a side-by-side comparison shot taken from Pacific Park's West Coaster roller coaster at Santa Monica Pier. What makes this a good test shot? Heavy vibration and lots of abrupt motion.

This is uncorrected footage, straight off the camera, just converted to MP4 at native 1920x1080-30P resolution. You'll notice right away that the GoPro has a more saturated, contrasty look. Typically that's going to look 'better' to most people, but while the Contour+ footage does appear thinner, let me note that we could (and would) add contrast via editing software for a more finished look.

That said, the GoPro to my eyes is slightly outperforming the Contour+ in color accuracy, and definitely outperforming the Contour+ in motion rendering. I see quite a bit more CMOS jello and skew (because of the way CMOS sensors read data) in the Contour+ footage, though it is there if you look for it in the GoPro footage also. The big surprise is the GoPro's advantage in sharpness. I actually think the Contour+ has more resolution for static shots, but it just isn't coping with motion well, and thus real-world sharpness is noticeably poorer.

Part of this, very simply, is that the GoPro has a wider lens, and that is contributing considerably to the smoother look. Still, something is going on with the Contour+'s motion encoding--there are segments in the footage where things just block up into a very ugly rendering. You can download the file from Vimeo for a frame-by-frame look. I'll have a review of the Contour posted later this coming week.

For now, despite what I've noted here, my take is that for most users, these differences in picture quality will be minor or unnoticable. The most significant difference between the two cameras remains their mount options and general usability; we'll talk more about that later. I say GoPro users will probably want to continue using GoPro, and Contour users will continue using Contour. All bets are off, however, once the Sony Cam comes out...

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When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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